Saturday, February 05, 2011

Muscular Liberalism and Stories About Islam

"Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism." - David Cameron, speaking about Islamic extremism at the Munich Security Conference.
Liberalism is jolly hard work. It means arguing for a society in which, inevitably, sooner or later, you will hear something that upsets or offends you, or a false statement on a subject that matters. People will behave in ways that unsetttle you, and yet you have to keep fighting for their right to do so. When I hear a phrase like muscular liberalism from a serving politician, I would expect something like some adjustments to our recent terrorism laws which criminalise various non-violent behaviours and allow police tremendous powers to interfere in the lives of those who come under suspicion.

No such luck...
“We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries. We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism - against people at home and abroad. Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are certainly, in some cases, part of the problem.”
Cameron spoke to the EU in Munich today about Islamic Extremism and the failure of multiculturalism, the day after the anti-Islamic English Defence League took to the streets of Luton. The timing was appalling, but the rhetoric was worse.
“So when a white person holds objectionable views - racism, for example - we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn't white, we've been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.”
Common narratives around race, religion and immigration are extraordinarily dangerous. We like stories. We also like simplicity, irony, colour-coding, heroes and villains. So stories about the way things are that appeal tend to stick better than stories which are true.

Privileged groups have been using the “one rule for them, another rule for us” complaint forever. I daresay a Pharoah once complained, “When a Hebrew kills an Egyptian overseer, he gets a burning bush and a pat on the back. But when an upstanding Egyptian accidentally drops a few thousand babies in the Nile and enslaves their parents, God goes and sends ten bloody plagues! It's political correctness gone mad!”

And it is blatantly untrue. There may be some people who imagine that outrageous views held by a member of a minority are somehow okay, or even part of their culture and therefore worthy of respect. But a Muslim only needs to moan about Western culture as much as the average pub bore and there is mass media coverage. Anjem Choudary, who appears to represent nobody but himself, is rarely out of the news. Yesterday, two Muslims made the national news by silently abstaining from a standing ovation for a man who had won the George Cross (please don't make me link, it was in the Daily Star).

It's almost a shame that the story isn't true, because it would make some sort of sense. Like Jack Straw's comments about sexually frustrated single Asian young men preying on white girls because Asian girls are sexually unavailable. Would make some sort of sense if it wasn't for the fact that the Asian men recently prosecuted for abusing young women and children were married, in their late twenties and anyway, rape has little to do with sexually frustation. But these stories have great appeal, they make some kind of sense of something in equal parts complex and horrible. But they do so at the cost of a scapegoat, at the cost of these communities who are always being spoken about in the third person.

We cannot ignore crimes committed by anybody, and terrorism is a very serious crime. But I think that as white folk, we have a greater responsibility to confront white voices who preach hatred and falsehood (and thus, provoke hate in others) than we do to confront non-white haters. We're the majority, we have the privilege and these people frequently claim to speak for our interests. And it's a very watered-down, cowardly liberalism that resorts to banning individuals who only want to speak. Even if what they have to say is as vile as vile can be.

This is a bit of a ramble but I've been struggling and I went and pressed publish by accident again half way through - so folks on feed-readers already got a preview.

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